Students win NASA competition
Mission accomplished: Pacific Ridge students reach for the stars, winning NASA competition

Four classmates from Pacific Ridge School’s (PRS) class of 2025 took on a unique challenge this year and won big. The students’ journey began when David Leschensky discovered the NASA Hunch program while on a family trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

He learned that qualifying teams of high school students from across the country could take on engineering projects proposed by astronauts through the NASA Hunch competition. After a series of design reviews with NASA engineers and astronauts, finalists would be selected to present their prototypes in person at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. David brought the concept back to his PRS robotics teammates Chloe Kim, Selina Carandang, and Jaden Cohen and the group got to work last summer.

Their first task was selecting a project from the list of challenges proposed by astronauts. One, in particular, piqued their interest. It turns out astronauts miss playing board games with traditional dice while on missions. Electronic dice lack the tactile satisfaction of standard dice and astronauts returning from space wondered if dice could be designed to work in zero gravity. They felt having access to more realistic dice would improve their gaming experience and camaraderie with fellow astronauts while on missions.

The PRS students felt confident they could create a practical solution. Their winning design, developed with multiple rounds of feedback from astronauts and NASA engineers, features a spacecraft-shaped container that utilizes a plunger mechanism to immobilize the dice. Transparent materials allow for easy dice reading, ensuring a seamless gaming experience in a gravity-free environment. This innovative approach impressed the NASA judges, who recognized the students’ ingenuity and commitment to addressing a real-world problem faced by astronauts. At the Johnson Space Center, the Pacific Ridge students showcased their prototype and findings to NASA officials and fellow NASA Hunch competitors.

“I almost couldn’t believe how many people were interested in our idea of a microgravity dice roller,” says Kim. “I felt like my own contribution to problem-solving in the real world had a real impact.”

The final presentation not only impressed the judges with its technical prowess but also highlighted the positive impact of dice games on astronauts’ well-being in space. “It was incredible! Presenting our project at NASA really gave me a feel for different engineering fields and gave me lots of opportunities to connect with students from across the nation.” David Leschensky ‘25 The Pacific Ridge team’s triumph demonstrates the power of curiosity and the transformative potential of passion projects.

“The biggest takeaway for me is how difficult design truly is,” says Cohen. “Building once you have the design is trivial but the design itself is crucial. It requires creativity and is much harder than it looks.”

Looking ahead, the Pacific Ridge students are committed to competing in the challenge again and hope to inspire additional high school teams from Pacific Ridge and other peer schools in Southern California. Leschensky plans to lead a NASA Hunch Club for Upper School students interested in participating in the competition during the 2023-2024 school year.

The Pacific Ridge community eagerly anticipates the next chapter in the students’ extraordinary journey and commends this team for their dedication, resourcefulness, and collaboration.